"The Best of Things in the Worst of Times"#84-39
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 28, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Philippians 1:27
"Let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ."
Christ is risen; He is risen indeed. Dear Lord, Saint Paul once encouraged God's people to live worthy of the Gospel of Christ so they might be empowered to stand firm and unafraid of the devil, death, and the world. Today, we ask that you will grant such a faith to all who hear. Amen.
The year was 1653, Oliver Cromwell had placed his own stern version of Christianity upon the people and pastorate of England. During this time of civil and theological unrest, many churches fell into disuse as ministers were removed from office and forbidden to practice their faith. In all of England, only three churches were built. Sir Robert Shirley paid for one of those churches: Staunton Harold Church.
As patron, he wanted to make sure it served as a house for the Lord and a refuge for some of the earthly shepherds who no longer had a flock. The construction of the church did not please Cromwell, who sent Shirley a message. Paraphrasing, that note read: "Sir, if you have enough money to construct a church, then you have enough money to sponsor a regiment in the military or enough to build a ship of war."
Contrary to what Cromwell had said, Sir Robert Shirley thought paying for a Christian church and underwriting a regiment for war was not the same thing at all. Shirley refused to reallocate his resources. The building of the church continued. For his refusal, Sir Robert Shirley was sent to the Tower of London where his enemies poisoned him. Sir Robert Shirley died at the age of 23.
In truth, he would be a forgotten footnote in history if it had not been for the people of his parish. Those who had been touched by his courageous witness had this inscription carved above the main entrance to his church. It reads: "In the year 1653 when all things Sacred were throughout ye nation, either demolished or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley Baronet, Founded this church; Whose singular praise it is, to have done ye best things in ye worst times. The righteous shall be held in everlasting reverence."
To do the best of things in the worst of times... Anyone who takes a serious look at Scripture knows the Lord is honored when His people do the best of things in the worst of times. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is dedicated to telling the stories of courageous souls who made a commitment to the Lord and kept it. There you can hear of ancient Noah who ignored the insults of a damned world and built an ark. Abraham left his family, his friends, and all he had known so he might father the Lord's family of faith. Moses refused a Pharaoh's palace to lead God's people out of slavery.
These did the best of things in the worst of times. Once you have counted Scripture's heroes of the faith, you will need to remember the list goes on. There are others, familiar others who have also done the best of things in the worst of times. Our nation was founded by immigrants who, in search of religious freedom, left home, family, friends and future to settle in an unknown and uncertain world.
The history of many congregations will tell how these faithful, even before their land was cleared and crops were planted, built a school for the Christian education of their children. The histories tell how they put up a house for the Lord while their families were still living in sod huts. To do the best of things in the worst of times.
Many of you remember the Great Depression when your mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers wore the same dress to church year after year. If you could have listened in on their conversations, you would have found these women did not despair. They had others things to do, important things to do. They taught their children how to pray. They showed their children that an honorable person of integrity, even when impoverished, could still hold up his head and be unashamed to look any other person in the eye.
Even in dark days, they set aside a few mites for missions and missionaries because they believed the real poor and impoverished people of the world were those who didn't know the Savior. Those women were heroes of faith because they tried to do the best of things in the worst of times.
Recall your fathers. They were men of flint, hardened from working long days in the sun. Their skin was worn and wrinkled like leather and their eyes had a permanent squint, but these men were Christian men and they told you what it meant to keep your word. They were Christian men who, no matter how many banks closed, no matter how much hail fell, how much dust blew, how many hoppers swept through, they thanked the Lord by setting aside a few acres of land for the Savior and the support of His work. If asked, they would say, "It's not that the money can't be used at home. It's just the Lord's work needs to be done." Look closely and you will see these men were committed to doing the best of things in the worst of times.
It was the children of these people, folks, who today have been labeled "America's Greatest Generation," who went off to war in Europe and Asia and around the world. Supported by the folks on the home front, they came home to parades and victory. They came back and they got married and found a job and they bought a home and a car, and lived lives which were better and richer and more secure than anything any person in any country in the world's history had imagined.
And then? The second chapter of Proverbs says what happened then. "And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done, and they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers." Like the stars slowly sliding across the night's dark sky, the change in attitude was almost imperceptible. On the farm, times were good as synthetic chemicals cleared fields of insects and weeds. Man-made fertilizers almost guaranteed a bumper crop as radars swept the skies to warn of inclement weather.
For the first time, we felt we were in control and Genesis' curse of weeds and wind had been tempered. In the city where God had never seen, disclosed, or His handiwork is direct, the Lord was slowly written out of life's equation. Times were good as a cube of medicine-laced sugar eliminated polio and a small scratch wiped out smallpox. A new generation arose which did not know the Lord. How could they know Him?
In these good times, science which could not measure God, chose to discount Him. His holy book which had been the Divine's gracious guide for earlier generations was banished from classroom and college. For many folks, the Lord's 10 Commandments were too confining; God's condemnation of sin, too critical. The words "judge not" were ripped out of context and used to counter anyone who criticized anything.
Yes, a new generation had arisen which did not know the Lord. How could they? So-called Christian scholars voted on the validity of Jesus' words, denominations decreed scripture-based doctrines were now debatable, and some beliefs were deniable. All gods, if there was a God, were thought to be the same, all religions were the same, all faiths the same, and the road to heaven was widened. The Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier was written out of the picture.
Financially, these were the best of times. Things were so good the masses considered God unneeded and unnecessary. To put a shine on the Lord's tarnished image, progressive preachers and parishes gave Him an extreme makeover which left the Lord of Scripture almost unrecognizable. No longer had Jesus come to rescue us from hell. Somehow, 19 centuries of believers had gotten that wrong. A loving God would never send anyone to hell. No longer was God's great goal to get us into heaven. All God really wanted was to make us happy.
Has our spouse let you down? Has your marriage grown cold? Get a divorce. God won't mind. He wants you happy. An unexpected, unwanted pregnancy? Get rid of the child. God wants you happy. Regular worship and faithful communion? God won't mind if you forget. Besides, you don't need to go to a church to hear someone yell at you. You don't have to worship with all those hypocrites. You don't need a church which keeps asking for money. God wants you happy and you would be ungrateful not to use the cabin, the beach, the mountains, the TV. God wants you happy.
Knowing God wanted them happy, folks searched for congregations willing to keep them that way. If the world had given God a facelift, so did many of His churches. Offending crosses were removed from steeple and belfry, novelty replaced theology, convenience cast aside commitment, acceptance of sin replaced repentance from sin, and Christ's cross was pushed aside to make room for political correctness.
These years were the best of times for anyone who wished to forget God and what He had done. With all things sacred being demolished and profaned, the day of darkness which Jesus said would come, had come. He described that day as a time when many would turn from the faith, when wickedness would increase, when the love of men for God would grow cold.
These were the days of darkness when dreams died even as discouragement, depression, and despair grew. These were the days of darkness when dictators and despots decreed Jesus' name should be banished from their borders, the day of darkness when zealots from other religions thought it their duty to slaughter Jesus' blood-bought disciples, the day of darkness when millions judged Jesus and found Him wanting.
No one could question dark days had come. The unanswered question was, "How shall Christians respond to the darkness?" Some, in a desire not to offend, suggested we be politically correct and purge anything which would make people feel bad. Similarly, the world was not shy in suggesting we would do well to limit our condemnation of sin and our proclamation of the Savior as the only way to forgiveness and salvation. Far better, they say, to sit down, shut up, and let the experts provide the answers to all which is wrong.
And the Lord, knowing what they were thinking, replied through His inspired word. He says, "The job of a Christian is not to be practical because salvation by grace has never been practical. His job is not to be politically correct, for the preaching of the cross will always be foolishness to some and an offense to others. His job is not to be liked, for the world which hated the Savior will also hate and persecute His followers."
God says, "When the days of darkness come, when all things sacred are being demolished and profaned, your job is to preach the word, to reprove, rebuke, and exhort and encourage." Our job is to remember: where the world's darkness is the deepest, God's light will shine the brightest. Your job is to point the lost to their Savior. Let them see how God's only Son left heaven's high throne to be born one of us. True man and true God, He came.
Let the doubting world see how Jesus was maligned and misjudged, how He was cursed, criticized, and condemned. Although Jesus was unmarked by the commission of any sin, He still carried the world's sins with Him to the cross. When He died, the stranglehold of sin and Satan was broken. His third day resurrection from the dead overruled the grave's finality.
Now, our job is to let the world know that Jesus' redemptive work is complete and now all who are given faith in Him are also granted forgiveness and eternal life which leaves God's people with a choice. When all things sacred are being demolished and profaned, will we be allied with compromise and concession? Shall we confine our confession only to those places which are safe and secure?
Will we, as so many other are doing, expend our energy in endless debates and discussions of things, trivial matters unimportant in topics, inconsequential? Will we hesitate and vacillate, falter and fail in telling the lost about the forgiveness which was won for them in Bethlehem's manger, on Calvary's cross, and at Jesus' empty tomb?
This day, hundreds of millions of souls are marching into hell. How many of them will hear if the Lord's words of warning are whispered? We are believers because the Holy Spirit used someone to tell us of God's grace. Now it is our time, our turn, our opportunity to proclaim, "Repent, be baptized, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved."
In this age when all things sacred are being demolished and profaned, what will be our heritage? Today, the Holy Spirit urges believers to enter a field of battle which many have already deserted, to become involved in a conflict which others have ignored, to be engaged in a struggle which most would leave unfought. It is a bloody battle, a dangerous battle, a battle which can take every penny you have and every ounce of strength you possess, and then, when you are exhausted and have no more left to give, the Holy Spirit will urge you to get up and begin again and again and again.
It is a struggle which has no promise of unending accomplishment and ongoing applause. On the contrary, the victories may be few and jeers rather than clapping may be your thanks. Even so, this is the time entrusted to us. Believers, today I invite you to redouble your efforts in confessing the gracious God who has sent His Son to rescue not just the best, but also the worst of Adam's sons and daughters. Where the battle is being fought the hardest, there may we take our stand.
And to those of you who don't know the Savior, I invite you to look at the Christ, hear what He has done for you, be turned from your present path which leads to damnation and destruction. You have a Savior who loves you very much. Believe on Him and the forgiveness He so freely gives. See the Christ who died to wash away all your sins, who returned after death to assure you that there is another world, a better world, and He wants you in that world.
I invite you to join with us so that, having been called to faith in the Savior, when your life is over and Jesus takes you to heaven, you may enter the home His sacrifice has provided and there, by God's grace, may you see inscribed above the door, "In a time when all things sacred were being demolished and profaned, His singular praise is this: he lived following the Savior who had lived for him."
If you believe that is what the Lord wants for you, do not hesitate in responding to this invitation and call us at the Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Action in Ministry for May 28, 2017
Guest: Michelle Enaaltu / Mongolian Efforts
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry. As many of you know, our team here at Lutheran Hour Ministries actually stretches across the globe.
Gregory Seltz: That's right, Mark. In fact, for every staff member we have here in the building, there are two people working at a ministry center somewhere else in the world.
Mark Eischer: We have ministry centers in more than 30 countries where dedicated staff and volunteers are finding very different ways of sharing the gospel within the context of their culture.
Gregory Seltz: That's right and joining us today is Michelle Enaaltu, Director of Ministry Center in Mongolia. It is so great to have you here in person too give your perspective on all that God is doing.
Translator: I'm very glad to be here with you guys today and greeting you all.
Gregory Seltz: Give us a little background on your country, the culture, and the attitudes in the region.
Translator: Mongolia has a very large land. It is slightly larger than Alaska and very few people. The population is like it is of a Denver. There three million people. About 4%, 120,000 people are Kazakhs who are Muslims. The rest are Mongols.
Gregory Seltz: How many are there ... even smaller version of Christianity there, too, so even tinier?
Translator: Yeah, it's like 3% or 100,000 people are Christian.
Gregory Seltz: Okay, all right.
Translator: And for Muslim people to be Christian, it is very difficult. It is very, very, very, very closed. Yeah.
Gregory Seltz: Tell us about some of the ministry activities that take place in your area through your Ministry Center.
Translator: It is very difficult to talk about gospel to them directly, so what they do is through TV programs, through radio programs, and through services like some benefits for the people, they start to make that relationship with the people there, make the connections, and through what they do, they will be talking about good news.
Gregory Seltz: Talk about some of the challenges that you've faced. It's very difficult to go individually, how do you overcome some of these things?
Translator: Because we are in Mongolia, even those people are Kazakhs. Through the law, we have that privilege to speak openly about gospel, and we also have a radio station that is Christian dedicated, spreading the Gospel. We work through them.
Gregory Seltz: Are there any particular challenges that you're facing that we can be praying about?
Translator: Within Mongolia, it is still cross-cultural. That's make it difficult for them. What they are doing is they are doing things in a long term. It's not like, "We do this, and tomorrow we see the product of it."
Gregory Seltz: Right. The church doesn't start tomorrow.
Translator: Exactly. The most important that she would like you guys to be praying for is we need a very good program that can sustain through that long time, and a very good context, the cultural context within the program.
Gregory Seltz: Thank you so much for letting us know how we can pray, and support your efforts. Michelle, it's been such a pleasure to have you here today. I just want you to know that our prayers and our thoughts are always with you and the wonderful work you do.
Translator: And I thank you for having us today here with you, and giving the opportunity to share what God is doing through us to the Kazakh people in Mongolia.
Gregory Seltz: Well, God bless you always in your work. That's our Action in Ministry segment today to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
Mark Eischer: And for more information on our ministry efforts in Mongolia, go to LutheranHour.org and click on Action in Ministry, or call 1-855-JOHN316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 28, 2017
Topic: Why would I put myself through all that negativity of church?
Announcer: And once again, it's time for Questions and Answers with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
Ken Klaus: And hello to you, Mark. I know what our topic is today, and I'm eager to get to it.
Announcer: That's because you supplied the question. Well, maybe we should say a friend of yours suggested this topic.
Ken Klaus: Yes, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to respond.
Announcer: A little bit of background, he was raised in the church and his family was and remains active in the life of that congregation. While there were good things that happened there, in his mind it became overshadowed by the rudeness, the anger, the constant bickering and complaining that he witnessed all the time.
People argued over what the pastor did or did not do, what his family did or did not do, or what the voters did or did not do. There always seemed to be an air of criticism hanging over everything. He decided he really didn't want to be any part of that.
Ken Klaus: I'm thinking I wouldn't want to be part of a church after all, like that either.
Announcer: Well, I know you're joking, but there are a lot of young people and a fair number of not so young who would agree, who would feel exactly the same way. They look at how the church folks squabble with each other and they think, "Why would I put myself through all that negativity?"
Ken Klaus: Mark, you and I know we've both touched on the subject before. There are a lot of answers that we've offered up in the past.
Announcer: Such as we joined the church because the Lord told us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
Ken Klaus: Yep, that's a standard answer. So is the one which says we ought to receive communion, support mission work, and remain faithful to the Apostles' Doctrine and fellowship.
Announcer: As true as those ideas are, people don't always find them convincing. They disassociate themselves from church and stay away from worship, so is there anything new we can bring to this discussion?
Ken Klaus: Possibly, Mark. I know you observe human nature. We both know a great many married couples. Some are obviously made for each other, and others, perhaps not so much so. If you think about the best of the best, have you ever known any couple to go through life without a single disagreement, difference or divergence of opinion?
Announcer: Truth be told, every couple I think has times when they'll hold an opinion that doesn't agree. He'll say he has a different take on something, and she'll say, "No, you're just wrong."
Ken Klaus: In short, these are pretty normal people.
Ken Klaus: My question to you is, how long will it take for them all to get divorced?
Announcer: Divorced? Why?
Ken Klaus: Well, with all this bickering, how long does it take before they all call their lawyers and each goes their separate ways?
Announcer: Well, the couples I had in mind are all still together and to the best of my knowledge, none of them have any intention of splitting up. They have disagreements now and then, of course, but that's what happens when two sinful people live together.
However, they're also sinful people who admit their shortcomings and they trust in the Lord to forgive, and to help them do better. As they grow in love for each other, they have the Lord's help, and they have the prayers and commitments of each other. That's what their marriage vows were all about, and they do their best to stand together as one.
Ken Klaus: Thanks, Mark. Now let's take what you said about marriage and apply it to the church. In the church, we have disagreements. That's what happens when sinful people come together. But we are in church, because of the Savior's sacrifice, people who confess our sins and are forgiven.
In prayer, we ask the Lord to help us change. As we grow in love toward each other, we rely on the Lord, but we also rely on the encouragement of our fellow church members. We try to be committed to each other. It's the kind of thing Christians do, even though they're sinners, in support of each other. That way, we grow, and that's what the Lord wants for us.
Announcer: And as it's often been said, "The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for perfect saints."
Ken Klaus: Indeed, if the church was just for perfect saints, they wouldn't take guys like you and me in as members.
Announcer: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Christ is the World's Redeemer" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"I Love Your Kingdom, Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)